Concerns about “All You've Ever Wanted”
It's January. That means that once again, it's time for K-Love's 30-Day Challenge – something I have some concerns about.
One of my concerns about K-Love's 30-Day Challenge is that it seems to invite people to thoughtlessly consume Christian music, without ever thinking critically about the lyrics. This is a dangerous practice because labeling a song “Christian” doesn't guarantee it's lyrics are great, creative, or even theologically sound.
With that in mind, today I'm launching a series in which I'll examine some of the songs K-Love regularly plays. We'll start with Casting Crowns “All You've Ever Wanted”.
To be clear, this song contains some theological truths. Through Jesus, we are indeed free. As Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” In Christ, we indeed “stand complete”.
The problem with this song is that it also contains some troubling lyrics. Consider these two verses:
Lord, I know I let You down
But somehow, I will make You proud
I'll turn this sinking ship around
And make it back to You
But all my deeds and my good name
Are just dirty rags that tear and strain
To cover up my guilty stains
That You already washed away
Guilt trip anyone?
And for what?
Sure, the Bible exhorts us to confess our sins to one another. But is telling ourselves that we're “just dirty rags” really what the Biblical authors had in mind?
I doubt it. After all, despite hanging out with some real riffraff, Jesus never calls anyone anything like a “dirty rag”. Instead, Jesus seems to consistently see beyond who a person currently is and call out their potential.
As I wrote about in The Jesus Gap in regard to accountability groups, this kind of language is problematic because it puts our focus on sin rather than on the one through whom all our sins our forgiven: Jesus. This is detrimental to how we see ourselves, our relationships, and even our faith.
Beyond that, the idea that “I'll turn this sinking ship around and make it back to you” also makes me cringe. Isn't that counter to the idea of grace?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” - Ephesians 2:8
Are there things we can do to grow closer to God?
But ultimately, it's the Holy Spirit who transforms.
Another problematic lyric in this song is “All you've ever wanted was my heart.” This lyric seems to reflect a popular, albeit faulty 20th century Christian notion far more than anything in Scripture.
Jesus never tells anyone that all he wants is their heart.
In fact, I'd argue Jesus expects quite a lot of people.
Just ask the rich man who left sad because he couldn't give his possessions to the poor... Or the man who simply wanted to bury his father before following Jesus... Or the disciples who were told to “pick up their cross” before following Jesus... Or the apostles who were constantly shown and taught how to serve... Or the people who heard him command us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind."
A life of faith isn't an easy one. It's a life of sacrifice. And we do it – and Jesus – an injustice when we make it any less than that.
One final lyric that deeply troubles me in this song is “I'll stop living off of how I feel and start standing on your truth revealed.”
How I hate the way we in the church so often demonize people's feelings. This is such a harmful practice - just ask anyone who suffers from a mental illness. It's also theologically inaccurate.
As Christians, we believe that God created us and according to the creation story even called us “very good”. How, then, are our emotions and feelings – things God also created – bad?
Feelings and truth are not – as this song suggests – mutually exclusive. In fact, oftentimes feelings point us toward God, who is truth.
Do I want a faith based solely on my emotions?
Not a chance.
But do I want emotions to be part of my faith?
I want to feel God's love... And his grace... And his forgiveness.
If we can't feel those things, can we really experience God? Without emotions, are we wholly human? Are we really the people God created us to be?
I'm not sure.
What I am sure of is that, as this song rightfully says, Jesus is indeed my strength. He will never fail me.
Even if this song's depiction of him – and faith - does.